Buying guide: Best RV antenna and streaming devices for a recreational vehicle
Having the right RV antenna for your recreational vehicle can be really noticeable during a road trip.
You and your significant other will want to break up the monotony of the open road once in a while. Catching a favorite show on CBS or NBC now and then, or reconnecting with the world by watching the nightly news can feel luxurious.
In the last few years, there has been a tug of war between RV antenna manufacturers King Jack and Winegard. But the best TV antenna for a recreational vehicle is the Winegard RVW-395 Sensar IV. It has greater range for drawing in VHF and UHF bands than its competitors. The Winegard Sensar IV also has flexibility, allowing add-ons and accessories that can make it even more powerful.
While antenna use has become all the rage for homeowners during the cord cutting era, it’s nothing new for RV enthusiasts. In a way, RV owners have been cord cutting for a long time. They are really the un-credited, early adopters of cutting the cable cord.
Netflix in my RV, other streaming options
Whether you’re driving your RV up the Pacific Coast, or hunkering down in a woodsy camp in Northern Maine, one key piece of equipment or know-how can make your summer.
So you may want to consider more than just what kind of RV antenna you will have for your TV setup.
This summer, Internet-dependent services like Netflix are making sure they’re not left at home.
Earlier this month, Netlfix began offering the option to download movies and shows to PC desktops and laptops using Windows 10. So you may want to make sure you have a laptop handy with a decent-sized hard drive.
I’ve compiled some more sure-fire ways to keep your entertainment flowing while you travel.
Streaming in an RV is nothing new, but the options have grown in the last few months. I’ll cover what’s now available to you in more detail below.
Hopefully, this guide will get your imagination drifting toward an early kick-off to summer.
Best RV antenna for TV
The Winegard Sensar IV has the best range of any RV antenna because it’s essentially two antennas in one.
If you were to open up that case (I don’t recommend that you do) you would find a circuit board where both signals meet. The board is connected to a coax cable that stretches down into your vehicle and connects to your television.
The Sensar IV pulls in all UHF and VHF channels within a 55-mile radius, including uncompressed HD OTA signals being broadcast in the area. Most of your HD channels are on the UHF band. But there are some channels on the VHF band that you will want. So, no matter what you buy, make sure your antenna can draw both VHF and UHF bandwidth.
What’s the big deal about uncompressed HD channels? It means you’re actually getting a better picture and sound quality than what most cable companies charge you for.
Winegard Sensar IV specs
The Sensar IV weighs only 6.5 pounds and comes with all the parts you’ll need to install it in your RV.
A crank and kit that’s included with the Sensar IV lets you raise, lower and rotate your setup. So you can adjust where to draw broadcast signals from based on where you park.
You should be aware that the crank and gears are made of plastic. That may not be ideal. But most RV antennas on the market have plastic gears these days.
The antenna extends to 30 inches once it is raised. It lowers to four inches when it’s stowed. That’s a preferred feature. Sometimes you might have to drive into woodsy areas with low hanging trees or power lines.
The Sensar IV includes a +12 VDC power supply, two stretches of coax cable, and mounting hardware. The antenna is powder coated to protect it from nasty weather. The Sensar line was developed by John Winegard, who was the first to make TV antennas exclusively for RVs.
Fixing RV antenna vs buying a new one
Before you buy anything, I want you to look over a few things on your RV. You might be in a situation where you don’t need a full blown upgrade to your RV antenna. Saving a few bucks on your setup is always a welcome surprise when it can happen.
Are you replacing a Winegard Sensar II or Sensar III that recently met an untimely end? If so, you might be in luck. You can replace just the antenna itself with the Sensar IV Replacement Antenna Head if the mounting and crank of your old Sensar antenna is still intact.
All of the parts that come with the full-blown kit are essentially the same. The earlier Sensar models are also amplified antennas, so your older Sensar II and III models also have a switch that turns on your amp. Winegard even has one set of installation instructions for the Sensar II, III and IV. The antenna head will come with a small bag of e-pins and replacement clips as well. So you will have pretty much everything you need for an easy fix. If you do have a critical piece broken like the gear housing, you can still buy all kinds of replacement parts. That may still work out to be less expensive than buying the full Sensar IV antenna with all its parts. Save that money for a nice dinner out.
Winegard Sensar IV vs King Jack
There’s no doubt that King Jack is a tremendously popular RV antenna. The King Jack OA8500 is another top over-the-air (OTA) antenna made specifically for RVs. This model comes with a built-in signal finder.
The signal meter picks up OTA TV signals as you rotate your antenna, which can turn a full 360 degrees. Unlike the Sensar, you won’t be able to crank down the antenna when you are not using it. So you need to be aware of height restrictions when traveling under trees or bridges.
The King Jack OA8500 is designed to pick up VHF, UHF and FM bandwidth. Along with the antenna, the OA8500 comes with a mount, the built-in signal meter, shafts, a rotation knob and wall mount. Depending on your RV, you might need a different mounting plate in order to install a King Jack antenna.
Not everyone is crazy about having to use the crank to raise their RV antenna, and that’s fine. Personally, I would prefer the ability to move an RV antenna instead of a tree or the undercarriage of a bridge doing it for me. But there’s another reason that makes the Sensar IV a better option.
Being able to raise an antenna can make a difference with your reception. That’s why people put TV antennas on the roof of their home. Elevation is all about getting above the trees, hills, and power lines obstructing an antenna from the best UHF and VHF signals possible.
Winegard Wingman and Sensar Pro, boosting an RV antenna
If you are going to buy a Sensar IV and do some significant traveling in the near future, there are two accessories that are worth considering.
The Winegard Wingman boosts UHF gain. Over 70 percent of HDTV channels are in the UHF band. The Wingman element collects more signals and delivers them to the main UHF antenna in the Sensar antenna. It can boost the gain between three to six db. So when you’re parked in a spot where it’s hard to get channels, the Wingman greatly improves your chances.
It’s also going to strengthen the weak signals you are already getting. Think about that spot that you love to go to every year where the TV channels come in a bit hazy. Are they on the UHF bandwidth – channels 14 to 83? If so, the Wingman can add to the quality of all that free TV you will be getting for the rest of your life.
No tools are needed to add the Wingman to your Sensar IV antenna. You only need the four push rivets that are included. Just remove the rubber bumpers from bottom of the Sensar. Find the holes in the Wingman and simply push into holes and lock into place.
The Sensar Pro takes away the labor of tracking down and fine tuning channels. This is especially useful if you are only spending a night or two in one spot then moving on to another destination. Repeatedly hunting down channels and fine tuning them can get monotonous.
SCAN: Checks each RF television channel between 2 and 51 and takes a reading of the signal strength. You can then adjust the gain for that particular channel.
SEEK and VOLUME: Once you have scanned for channels, SEEK and VOLUME modes work hand in hand to help you fine tune individual channels for the best reception possible.
CHANNEL: This mode will help you find low strength signals for a particular channel. The signal meter is directed to focus on a single RF channel that is weak or distant.
GAIN: The Sensar Pro contains an amplifier (yes, another one) to adjust gain. This shouldn’t be adjusted in most cases, but controlling gain can improve a weak channel that’s not-so watchable.
VOLUME: An audio tone that alerts you find the peak of a signal.
The instructions for setting up the Sensar Pro and using these modes are very simple. You will already be able to get a full slate of channels with just the Sensar IV alone. But the Wingman and the Sensar Pro can significantly enhance its performance. The other nice feature here is that these don’t have to be immediate upgrades. I would recommend using your Sensar IV on its own and see if it’s adequate enough. If you’re interested in getting more UHF channels, where many digital channels live, then the Wingman will help.
RV antenna alternative: ClearStream Eclipse Amplified Antenna
Portability is always a benefit for RV enthusiasts, especially when it comes to entertainment. Not everyone wants to deal with cranks or gears that come with the Sensar models.
If you’re looking for an RV antenna that’s easier to set up, the ClearStream Eclipse is the best option.Stick this paper-thin antenna in a window, scan for channels and you will be watching TV as soon as the scan is done.
No tools required.
The antenna comes with a crescent-shaped Sure Grip strip, and a 20db in-line amplifier and power supply. There are also two coaxial cables included. One is 12 feet, the other is three feet. The Eclipse is about the size of a pie plate, and it’s surprising how powerful this antenna is given its size. I picked up 47 UNH and VHF channels within a 38-mile radius during my tests.
You might want to move around this antenna before you settle on an optimal spot to pick up channels. The amped version of the Eclipse costs about $20 more, but worth it if you have a nearby outlet. I do wish Antennas Direct would create an amplifier that could be powered via a USB port on the back of a TV. I have seen USB plug-ins with other antennas that I have tested. It’s a handy way to amplify an antenna without using a nearby outlet. But this is by no means a deal breaker for me.
Being able to clean the Sure Grip strip is a great feature on the portability front. Tacky surfaces can often attract hair or lint. If you are using your Eclipse at home and sometimes on the road, the SureGrip adhesive can definitely attract dirt. Use a damp towel or cloth and the SureGrip strip remains as sticky as when you first took it out of the box.
I have also seen people place a TV just outside their RV for an hour or two so they can sit outdoors and catch a ball game or some news. The Eclipse takes a decent share of the work out of a temporary outdoor TV setup.
This antenna comes at a lower price than Sensar IV or King Jack, so it’s also a solid option if want to avoid a triple-digit price point.
Streaming TV in RV
The challenge for many with streaming in an RV is a matter of access. You don’t want to burn up the data on your smartphone.
If you are staying at a campground or RV park, there might free WiFi. But it’s often not strong enough for streaming movies or TV shows. It’s good for checking e-mail and that’s about it. Even places that brag about having a zippy Internet connection could still give you problems.
Often there are too many people hogging up the bandwidth. Take a peek in the park office where the router is kept and you might notice another problem. The router is designed to accommodate a single home, not a whole campground full of dozens of smartphones, tablets, laptops and streaming devices.
Your best bet is to download what you want to watch before you leave home.
So here are a few solutions for streaming your favorite movies and shows in your RV without using the Internet while you are on the road.
How to stream Netflix in my RV
With Netflix, you can download content to either a laptop with Windows 10, or onto an Android tablet. But choose wisely. You will be limited to one device per account.
Using a laptop will allow you to watch your downloaded movies or shows on a TV by connecting the two with an HDMI cord. You will need a laptop that runs Windows 10 for the download feature to work. I also suggest you utilize a laptop with at a least 1TB hard drive. Why? Because you won’t be able to utilize an external hard drive for downloading from Netflix.
You can also download Netflix shows and movies to an Android tablet. But you will likely want a large SD card to store your Netflix shows. For example, a Samsung Galaxy Tab has expandable memory card slot for 128GB. A NVIDIA SHIELD K1 tablet has the same amount of expandable memory. I prefer a Fire HD 10 tablet. I’ll explain why in a moment.
If you do use a tablet for downloading Netflix, you will want to go to App Settings and select the download location to “SD card”.
To pick a show to save, you just need to go to the menu and explore the section, “Available to download”. You will notice that pretty much all Netflix-produced shows will be up for grabs along with some movies. You won’t see the entire Netflix catalog largely due to licensing agreements with production studios.
Once you settle on a show or movie, you will see a download button as an option below the title. Aside from memory capacity of your hardware, you shouldn’t run into any restrictions as to how much you can download.
How to use Amazon Prime to download movies and shows
If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can download shows and movies to Android smartphones and tablets.
I recommend using an Android tablet like a Fire HD 10. It has a nice 10.1-inch high definition screen and the largest expandable storage capacity at 200GB. Any tablet you choose should have a screen size you are comfortable with for watching a movie or TV show. You will also want a large SD card to store the maximum amount of content.
Fire tablets already have Amazon Video installed. So it’s pretty much primed to download content out of the box.
If you choose another Android tablet, there are a few more steps you will need to take. You will need to download the Amazon Underground app then use it to download the Amazon Video app.
To do this, you will need to make a change under Settings on your device. Under Security, go to the Unknown Sources tab, and check “Allow installation of apps from unknown sources.” You will get a warning, but it’s fine. Click “OK”. (You can change this setting back later). Next, go to amazon.com/underground and download the Amazon Underground app. You may get another warning, but again, it’s fine. If you see a list of files, you will want to click on “Amazon_app.apk” to complete the download process. Once the download is complete, you may have to delve into your whole list of apps to find Amazon Underground on your device. You can easily move it front and center to your main screen.
Once you have the Amazon Underground app up and running, open it up. Search and download the Amazon Video app.
Getting the Amazon Video app
With the Amazon Video app, you can peruse its library using your Prime account. Be aware that you can set the download quality under settings. This will make a difference in terms of file size (and how many movies you can save) on your SD card. You will be able to view what you saved to your SD card under downloads folder. During trips, you should make sure that you are playing files from this folder and not using your data plan.
There is one final caveat with all this. Once you start watching a show or movie online, you will likely need to watch it in a 48 hour period. Only certain Prime Video titles can be downloaded, and the time limits can vary. After that, you will need to check in with your device using WiFi or data to validate some licensing data. This allows you to keep watching your downloaded content. It’s not a huge deal, but worth knowing about in advance. If you purchase a video, then you can watch your download indefinitely.
Compatible devices include: Samsung Galaxy Tab, Fire HD Tablet, Android smartphones and iOS devices
Laptop and external hard drive
Taking your laptop on the road is about as ordinary as packing your socks and undies these days. If you have a stock of movies already downloaded at home, why not bring them along? By transferring them to an external hard drive, you can dive into your movie collection from the road.
You don’t have to be limited to watching movies on your laptop either. Just make sure you have an HDMI cable handy, and connect the laptop to your television.
There’s still nothing wrong with having a DVD player on hand too. Remember that game consoles like an Xbox or PlayStation can do double duty as DVD players. That can come in handy if you have a Redbox nearby to tap into. If not, you can always rely on all free television being pulled in by your RV antenna.
I hope this guide was helpful to you. I expect to update this article as the summer goes on. I’m hoping that you get involved too. Drop in your suggestions for what you do to watch your favorite shows and movies while you’re on the road in the comments section.